Charlotte Mew (1869-19280 and Stevie Smith (1902-1970) together span just over a century of English literary life and yet, in a period of great diversity, their work was characterised and often dismissed as out side the mainstream, ‘eccentric’ and even ‘freakish’ in style, point of view and content. In a 1972 review of Stevie Smith’s poetry, Philip Larkin challenged these terms as ways of ‘devaluing’ the seriousness and originality of her work.
What applies to Smith applies equally to Mew, as Julia Corus notes in her introduction to the Selected Poetry & Prose (2019) and at greater length and depth in This Rare Spirit: A Life of Charlotte Mew (2021). Despite the championship of their work by Larkin and Copus, and the sporadic recognition by feminist poets, critics and anthologists in the 1970s, their reputation have tended to flare up and sink again. They are best known, if at all, by the anthology poems ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ (Mew) and ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ (Smith).
It is the purpose of this course to argue for the argue for the originality and centrality of their work in any account of English poetry in the 20th century – and the twenty-first. Idiosyncratic in style, form and perspectives, perhaps, perhaps; but the themes are perennial human concerns: love, life, time, death and God. I will aim to emphasise and explore the diversity and richness of their work and suggest links between these two extraordinary poets and their links with their contemporaries.
Julia Copus (ed), Charlotte Mew Selected Poetry & Prose (Faber)
James MacGibbon (ed) Stevie Smith Selected Poems (Penguin)
Copies of poems for detailed discussion will be distributed ahead of the sessions along wit the discussion notes.
Day: Thursdays Time: 10.30– 12.30
8 sessions, starting 7th October 2021 to 2nd December (Half term break 4th November)
Cross Street Chapel
Manchester M2 1NL
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